A number of Latin American drug capos have been reported killed only to be later found alive, a phenomenon fueled by authorities as well as the criminals themselves.
In August 2015 Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office reported that police had killed José Márquez Balderas, alias “El Chichi, ” head of operations for criminal group the Zetas in the coastal city of Veracruz. But six months later the supposedly dead narco was captured in a federal police operation.
This was not the first time a Mexican drug trafficker was reported dead only to turn up months or even years later, a recent BBC report points out. Similar scenarios have played out with a number of other crime bosses, one of the most famous cases being that of Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, alias “El Chayo.”
A founding member of Mexican drug trafficking group Familia Michoacana and later a leader of the Knights Templar, El Chayo was falsely reported killed by security forces in 2010. In reality El Chayo continued to operate in Mexico and his legend as a “narco-saint” grew until government officials confirmed his death in a 2014 shootout.
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In some cases Mexican officials have claimed false death reports were a way to throw drug traffickers off guard in order to capture them, reported the BBC. Authorities are also under tremendous pressure to produce results, an investigator at Mexico’s National Institute of Criminal Science told the BBC, which could cause some officials to report deaths before they have been confirmed.
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Both criminals and authorities have reasons for wanting a high-profile drug trafficker’s death to be reported.
For authorities, it lends them a degree of credibility and bolsters their reputation as being able to track down and kill powerful drug lords. And as some Mexican officials told the BBC, falsely reporting a drug trafficker’s death may enable security forces to hunt criminals with greater ease.
A falsely reported death can also serve the interests of a drug trafficker. If authorities consider a drug trafficker to be killed, they are certainly not going to expend significant resources and manpower going after the individual.
In addition, seeming invincibility helps build up the mystique of powerful crime figures. The most well-known example is that of El Chayo, but it is not the only one.
In August 2015 rumors began swirling that Colombian narco-guerrilla Victor Ramon Navarro Serrano, alias “Megateo,” had been killed by security forces, but authorities confirmed his death following a separate police operation two months later. Megateo cultivated an image as a modern-day “Robin Hood” and enjoyed popular support in areas where he operated, and after his death locals reportedly built a shrine in his honor.